This past summer, several employees at the New York City office of Oxford University Press took part in a rite that most of haven’t experienced since elementary school: a spelling bee. In the age of autocorrect and spellchecker, the skill of spelling has undoubtedly lost some of its luster. Why bother knowing about the pesky -ff- in chauffeur when your smartphone will happily correct it for you? Luckily for us, we’ve got plenty of sharp minds still left at OUP, and talented spellers were out in force to compete.
Three editors from US Dictionaries editorial team handled judging duties, and challenged contestants to spell such mind-bending (and often tongue-twisting!) words as: absquatulate (to leave somewhere abruptly), bezoar (a small, hard mass that may form in the stomachs of certain animals), and viscid (glutinous or sticky). Another tough one that tripped up even one of OUP’s noted trivia masters was colporteur, which refers to a peddler of books, newspapers, and similar literature.
Besides spellings, there were also word facts to be had, including the amusing etymology of gerrymander, which means ‘to manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class’. The word actually comes from the name of Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, plus the word salamander, from the supposed similarity between the small amphibian and the shape of a new voting district on a map drawn when he was in office (1812), the creation of which was felt to favor his party.
Featured image credit: “ABC” by Blickpixel. Public domain via Pixabay.